TIFF Bell Lightbox Presents The Rise of Beefcake Cinema: ‘The Terminator’ was Cameron’s titanic before ‘Titanic’

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The Terminator

Directed by James Cameron

Written by James Cameron, Gale Anne Hurd and William Wisher Jr.

USA, 1984

Probably James Cameron’s most perennial film, The Terminator effectively launched the career of both himself and his cyborg assassin lead, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Oft emulated, this comparatively low-budget sci-fi action thriller was Cameron’s titanic before Titanic.

The film stars Schwarzenegger as the titular terminator, a cyber-assassin sent from a post-apocalyptic 2029 to track down and eliminate Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) in 1984 Los Angeles. The future mother of a famed rebel, the terminator is sent by his mechanical overlords to kill her, thus preemptively erasing the existence of her son, John, and the subsequent rebellion.

Likewise, but in an effort to save both Connors, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), a member of the rebellion, is also sent back to 1984, and must act as Sarah’s protection from an unstoppable force.

Directed with ergonomic efficiency, yet taut with suspense and thrills, The Terminator is a supreme technical achievement that never ceases in providing tension, grit, and savage wonder at a breakneck, no-nonsense pace.

But what makes the film such a landmark in cinematic history is its ability to create a mythos that is deceptively accessible and darkly complex. Like with the Back to the Future franchise, the impetus and consequence of altering the space-time continuum is paramount to the film’s initial conflict.

But unlike Back to the Future, which mostly uses time travel as a comedic device, The Terminator uses the Philip K. Dick model, creating a story of dark, calamitous overtones. In a scenario where every minutiae can possibly alter or change the devastation of the future, every action scene is imbued with tangible immediacy. It doesn’t hurt that these scenes are breathtakingly orchestrated, as well.

The picture’s wonderfully ambitious ideas are realized as fully as its technical achievements, making for an experience that fulfills almost every requirement for great action film lore. There’s even a small social comment on humanity’s over reliance on technology, and although it doesn’t ever delve into the nuances of its diatribe, it does serve to give the situations added dimension.

Schwarzenegger as the meticulously deadly cycborg is truly inspired casting, with both he and his fellow cast members providing unforgettable and lasting moments of acting and dialogue.

Iconic, imitated, and undeniably illustrious, The Terminator is the role Schwarzenegger was meant to play, the project Cameron was meant to direct, and the sci-fi film every other meant to be.

– Justin Li

For tickets and more information, please visit the TIFF website.

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